Texas governors have limited control over what the state budget ultimately looks like. They can veto items in the final budget and, as Gov. Rick Perry did Tuesday, use the bully pulpit of the State of the State address to lay out priorities. Perry's address, which he delivered to a joint session of the House and Senate, was part pep rally, part budget proposal, with a dash of national politics — and Democrats weren't charmed.
During the speech, Perry hit on familiar budget talking points — government efficiency, no new taxes — while noting how those priorities could affect local governments.
"Let's be sure we're not burdening local authorities with unfunded mandates, because they are facing their own budget challenges as well," he said.
Perry's proposed cuts included the consolidation or suspension of a few state agencies, including the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Commission on the Arts. Those proposals, however, save only $56 million — small potatoes given the state's $158 billion budget.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
Perry also introduced some spending increases, namely in public education.
"Let's expand our virtual school network with a virtual high school," Perry said, "that will not only enable students who have dropped out to earn a degree online, but also give students access to those classes that their own schools may not offer."
Once those students finish high school, he wants to make college cheaper by challenging the state's universities to develop a bachelor's degree that costs less than $10,000, including the price of books.
Democrats are pleased with the proposal, but state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said promises and platitudes in the governor's speech gave an unrealistic view of the state's current economic problems. "Schools are closing. Teachers are losing their jobs," Davis said. "And state support for public education, already among the lowest in the entire nation, is facing dramatic cuts."
Davis and the rest of the Democrats did not have their own budget proposal Tuesday. Instead, alluding to the supermajority the GOP holds in the Texas House, they said the current budget problem was created by Republicans and should be fixed by Republicans.
The Democrats pointed specifically to the so-called structural deficit, a $10 billion shortfall created in 2006 after lawmakers lowered school property taxes.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said he wasn't ready to release how he would fix the problem but said he plans on making waves during the budget debate.